Tuesday October 2, 2012

The sad extent to which AT&T does not have their act together

AT&T envelope

It’s time to check in with AT&T. Last year, I needed to call technical support for their DSL service, which powers the internet at my work. The internet was down, so I pulled up their website on my iPhone to get their number. I’d encourage you to try — just try — to find a phone number on their website. You click a tiny “Contact Us” link in the footer or in a submenu of the main navigation. This takes you through a series of pages where you’re expected to answer a number of questions before they’ll give you a number, but the interface of the pages proved to not be navigable on the phone.

So I dug through my files, looking for a phone number for them, and eventually finding one. Turned out to be an old number for AT&T web hosting(?), but I dialed it anyway. The person on the other end was super nice, and tho he couldn’t help me, he gave me the number for AT&T DSL. Called that number, and got another super nice person. Gave her my DSL phone number, but she couldn’t find my account. After a bit of investigation she realized that I was calling from Florida.

HER: Oh, that’s why … you’re on Bellsouth!
ME: Bellsouth? You guys bought them years ago.
HER: Yes, but they’re still a separate department within the organization. Let me give you the number for them …

At that point I was thrust into an excruciating multi-day attempt to get them to even acknowledge that I was authorized to inform them that our service wasn’t working, but that’s a story for another day. I’ve always suspected that AT&T’s purchase of Bellsouth was mainly a talend aquisition for incompetence, and now I’ve got proof. Remember the insane Valentines Day mailer advert? Well, the same marketing folks are alive and well, and doing their work for AT&T. Above is an envelope I got recently. No mention of AT&T anywhere on the outside. Just my address in a bogus handwriting font, and a faux “real” stamp. Here’s what’s inside:

AT&T advertisement

A single fake-photocopied page, with fake pen annotations from a fake “neighbor.” I would like to believe that AT&T is having fun here, and that they expect us to be in on the joke. But on reflection it seems unlikely, which is depressing. AT&T is actually targeting the segment of people gulliable enough to fall for this. I don’t know who that would be, but it speaks to a pretty deep level of cynycism.

Now let me tell you what happened when I tried to order my iPhone. I attempted to log into Apple’s order page with my AT&T phone number. It asks you for the last 4 of your social, and when I punched them in it didn’t authenticate me, and I was stuck going through AT&T’s website. Logged in, checked my eligability (it incorrectly listed me as ineligable for an upgrade for over a week, but was resolved by last Monday, which is when this all started), and tried to order the phone. When I get to the shipping page, it tells me that it can only ship to my billing address. No way to change it.

This is straight out of 1999, before every other online retailer realized that most people actually have an actual job, and simultaneously do not want FedEx dropping things like iPhones in front of their door to sit there until they get home in the evening. That’s the first call to AT&T, which goes like this. First, you get a stern warning admonishing you to not text and drive. Second, you’re asked to punch in the number you’re calling about. Second, you verify the last 4 of your social. And boom: I’m out. I can’t get a human. I try hitting 0, but no dice.

Switchboard-Telephone-Operators A trip to Get Human reveals the trick: just keep hitting 0 through the repeated prompts to enter your phone number, and eventually you’ll get a human. (Which works. But take note: if you put in your phone number, but the last 4 digits of your social don’t match what they have on file, you can’t get a human. Play at home and see if you can figure it out why the last 4 of my social security number doesn’t match what they have on file for my account. Or just stay tuned: the answer will be revealed before this is all over.)

The human turned out to be super nice, and because of surplus staff brought in for the initial crush of iPhone orders I got her on almost immediately. She changed the primary address on my account to my work address, and promised to change it back a few days later. I thank her and log back into the site, where sure enough I can now order my phone. There’s something I don’t understand about having to change my data plan (and which may come back and bite me later) and I’m on my way, confirmation page printed to PDF. Off to bed.

The next day I check my email, and there is no confirmation or anything. I log back into the website, and it shows me as still eligable for an upgrade. What the hell? Is it really going to let me order and iPhone like I didn’t just order one last night? Yup, sure it does. A second confirmation page printed to PDF. I call. Texting and driving admonishment. Tap zeros. Get human. The human tells me, believe it or not, that she can’t access the system because it’s being reset (?!?) and that she’ll have to call me back. (This might be the point to remind you that AT&T has been dealing with the yearly influx of orders since 2007.)

AT&TThey don’t call back (or I missed the call) and I try again the next day. Texting and driving admonishment. Tap zeros. Get human, who has absolutely no idea what might have happened. She suggests I check to see if my credit card was charged. Nope, it hasn’t been charged either time. Believe it or not I’m condensing this story, but suffice it to say that I called a half dozen times total. I’m not sure if neither of the orders were really processed and I would never have gotten a phone, or if somehow they both were processed and I would have gotten two phones, both at the subsidized price (or maybe free?), but eventually one of the humans I spoke with went into the backend and canceled one of the orders, and a single charge appeared on my credit card.

As of yesterday there was still no confirmation of an order though, either in my email or in my account on AT&T’s website. Being that even best case scenario I don’t get my phone until the end of October, I want to be damned sure there’s an order in there, which I guess means yet another phone call.

Texting and driving admonishment. Tap zeros. Get human. Just for fun, this time they can’t find anything about my order. Did I place this order online? Why yes, I did. Well then, I have to talk to the online department, which is a different phone number. I’m so beat down at this point that I don’t ask why everyone else I’ve talked to at this number could pull up my order. I hang up and call the number for online, and I’m not shocked at all when they can’t pull up my record. Oh, that order is through “Premiere.” I have to call Premiere, which is (you guessed it) a different phone number. At this point I have to go full Dave Barry on you and swear on a stack of Huffington Post Guides to Blogging (Amazon Affiliate link!) that I am not making this up. I read the nice person on the other end both my order numbers (It’s worth pointing out that for every single one of these phone calls I got a person with zero hold time, after just mashing on the 0 key on my phone for a bit, and they were all super helpful. It’s a testemant to AT&T’s profit margins that they can overstaff their call centers so lavishly, and a further indictement of literally every other thing about this process.) and sure enough, one is canceled and the other is processed. I suddenly think to ask why neither their system nor Apple’s recognized the last 4 of my social. Here’s why: my grilfriend and I recently got on a family plan (true love!) and since she’s the primary person on the account … you guessed it: the secret formula is my phone number, last 4 of HER social. I’m not baffled at all about why AT&T wouldn’t do something as simple as changing their phone prompt to specify the last 4 of digits of the primary accountholder’s social. After all, they’re powered by that old-school Bellsouth incompetence.

comments powered by Disqus